90s kids will love this vintage clothing spot in New Orleans – Sourcing Journal

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Swamp Rags Vintage brings a touch of nostalgia to one of America’s oldest neighborhoods

Located in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter, in a storefront that dates back to the 1800s, the 1,500-square-foot boutique pays homage to denim, graphic tees, jackets and other pop culture collectibles from the 80s and 90s.

A company born out of a pandemic, Swamp Rags Vintage was created by co-founders Chris Olsen and Dante Graziani when their love of vintage became a solution to the disruption caused by the shutdowns. As a tour manager for international bands, Graziani saw his industry shut down overnight. Olsen, a partner at a creative agency whose New Orleans clients were primarily bars and restaurants, felt a similar shift.

Like many people, Olsen and Graziani turned to their passions to make ends meet. Graziani began sourcing and selling vintage T-shirts, and Olsen started Vice & Graft, a vintage clothing and furniture business within the Merchant House antiques cooperative. After working together on and off for months and meeting at estate sales in the area, they decided to join forces.

“It was like a fresh slate,” Olsen said. “With everything closed, when things reopened, we could do anything.”

swamp rags
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While the business partners knew they wanted their business to be in “the neighborhood” (Graziani was born and raised; Olsen lives there with his family), the “aha” moment that led them to come up with the idea from Swamp Rags came when they came across an estate sale early one morning with over 3,000 vintage t-shirts on offer. The previous owners had stocked their store before the devastating hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and their store had been closed since.

“As soon as I started looking in the boxes I knew we had to have it,” Graziani said.

Olsen and Graziani offered to buy it all, and the shirts became the basis for the new Swamp Rags Vintage store.

Selling nostalgia

The new venture revolves around two fashion themes that show no signs of letting up: nostalgia and resale.

The pandemic has been a chance for many to find solace in the pop culture distractions that colored their youth. ’90s sitcoms like “Friends,” “The Nanny,” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” have gotten a second wind on streaming services. Music videos rallied, avoiding a similar fate as CDs and cassettes, and became incubators for trends such as bodysuits, rodeo fashion, and watermelon-themed accessories. And there was plenty of time to revisit the movies that shaped the mindset of millennials.

Swamp Rags Vintage is a tribute to jeans, graphic tees, jackets and other pop culture collectibles from the 80s and 90s.

swamp rags
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The comforting allure of the nostalgic treasures of the time did not escape Olsen and Graziani.

“We wanted to curate a store of things that we grew up on,” Olsen said. Clothing and collectibles from the movies, cartoons, video games and music of the 80s and 90s fill the shelves of the store. Their inventory also includes dozens of Nola-themed items, like early Jazz Fest shirts, rare Saints clothing, historic pieces from Pontchartrain Beach, the 1984 World’s Fair and more. “We just filled the store with the things we love,” he added.

Swamp Rags Vintage is a tribute to jeans, graphic tees, jackets and other pop culture collectibles from the 80s and 90s.

swamp rags
Courtesy

Shoppers will find denim jackets with Chicago Bulls patches, a selection of men’s and women’s jeans, and jewelry like a “Titanic” t-shirt likely originally sold at Spencer in 1997 and now retailing for $300. The t-shirt category, like denim, has its own group of diehard collectors, Olsen said, noting that a 1992 Disney “Aladdin” t-shirt recently sold for $6,000 at a live auction.

But as the perfect companion to t-shirts, denim makes up about 20% of the Swamp Rags assortment. While Levi’s Orange Tab is the “gold standard” for Olsen’s Vice & Graft clientele, it’s Levi’s, Lee and Guess’ 80s and 90s novelty for his new venture. Think Mom jeans, jeans with a cinched or elastic waist, cropped shorts and baggy shorts a la ’90s Princess Diana. up close JNCO jeans as the next big denim revival.

Then there’s the “crossover stuff” like the Iceberg tracks with The Looney Tunes license, he added. “These more ornate styles have been very popular,” he said.

local heart

Surrounded by gift shops and boutiques that play on the charms of New Orleans (though not as much as before the pandemic), Swamp Rags Vintage offers a new fashion experience in the French Quarter.

Other vintage shops dot the edges of the neighborhood and on Magazine Street. A little friendly competition is welcome in the Big Easy, though.

Swamp Rags Vintage is a tribute to jeans, graphic tees, jackets and other pop culture collectibles from the 80s and 90s.

swamp rags
Courtesy

“I know our four competitors. They’re all my best friends,” Olsen said. “If I can’t move something or if something doesn’t quite work for me, I know there are a few people to call who will and vice versa. That’s what’s really good about a place like New Orleans.

Olsen anticipates that its eclectic and ever-changing assortment will draw locals and tourists alike as they begin to return to the neighborhood’s historic streets. New Orleans had record tourism before the pandemic when it welcomed 19.75 million visitors in 2019, a staggering number for a city of about 340,000 people, according to census data from last year.

“There are better places in the world to open a vintage clothing store. I would probably make a lot more money opening it in Austin or LA or New York,” Olsen said. “This place is basically our house, and for us it was more like what’s the best place to live and have a great life and that’s what we found here.”

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